The Hyborian Sage: Real-World Parallels Between Howard’s Essay and Modern Discoveries

by Wm. Michael Mott

Introduction

In recent years, television programming, along with publishing ventures, have presented a number of projects looking at the concept of catastrophism, along with diffusionism. One of the best of these books is Brad Steiger’s Worlds Before Our Own, a work that initially earned that writer a great deal of ridicule and personal attacks. Yet now we see him having the last laugh, as both science and scholarship are finding that he was, perhaps, on the right track… Rather than history being largely linear and steadily progressive, it may in fact be cyclical and catastrophic, interrupted periodically by massive upheavals and periods of chaos, hardship, the displacement of populations, and the destruction of entire civilizations within a very short span of time.

Long before the advent of writings like Mr. Steigers’, or of Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Daniken (1968) or Immanuel Velikovksy’s Worlds in Colllision (1950)—or even of television programs like Ancient Aliens, Civilization Lost, and America Unearthed—the concept of catastrophism, along with highly-developed civilizations that existed in vast antiquity, were not common ones among the general population. These were concepts that were considered to be absurd and ridiculous by the high-priests of various scientific disciplines, and either “crackpot” or blasphemous by the more staid members of society. In fact, this attitude is still very much present, but is slowly being worn away by those bold enough to take the lead, and to reveal what they find.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, such ideas often found expression in the theosophical and “mystical” writings of “seers” like Helena Blavatsky and Edgar Cayce, which in turn were based on then-obscure (in the West) sacred texts like the Mahabharata and Bhagavad-gita. Additionally, in Judaism (and therefore Judaeo-Christianity), there had always existed a concept of an antediluvian, or pre-flood, pre-cataclysmic world, a time when a vast civilization existed on our planet, a civilization that was at one time both of a high order of development, yet guilty of committing degenerate assaults against man and nature. Unbeknownst to many, several sacred texts that had originally been in the Bible were removed after the conversion of Constantine, and those texts contained the story of the pre-flood world, along with the half-human, half-god/fallen angelic beings who cruelly ruled over antedliluvian kingdoms as “god-kings”. The books of Enoch, Jasher, Jubilees and others were excised (lest they confuse the sheep with their talk of sex with angels and the hybridization of men and beasts, in order to create monsters who were servants), and we were only left with a few paragraphs concerning that distant epoch in Genesis Chapter 6, along with occasional hints in the Old Testament about “the people of old time” (Ezekiel 26:19-21), the destruction of a previous age (Jeremiah 5:23-28), lost races of half-human giants (the Nephilim, Anakim and Rephaim) and so on.

 1. Root Races, Diffusionism and Interbreeding

New discoveries in archaeology, anthropology and the genetic sciences are now revealing that, in fact, the concept of human history is much more complex than previously thought. For instance, the Human Genome Project has revealed to us that most Europeans (and Caucasians) have a chromosomal inheritance which is not only Cro-Magnon, but from 2-4% Neanderthal. East Asians have a similar chromosomal inheritance, along with up to 2% of Denisovan genes, and possibly the genes of a still-unidentified hominid. Sub-Saharan Africans have neither of these “stranger genes” represented, but instead demonstrate evidence of an unknown primate (identified via the Y chromosome) which may predate the genus homo, at 340-360 million years old (New Scientist, March 2013). Additional discoveries along these lines are occurring almost monthly, leading us to consider that perhaps many hominid groups in the fossil record did not so much “die off” and become extinct, as they did interbreed, intermarry, and produce variations among the human type that today remain with us as races, ethnicities and essentially co-existing sub-species of homo-sapiens.

To the reader who is familiar with the themes in the sword-and-sorcery fiction of Robert E. Howard, these ideas are not new at all. In his famous essay “The Hyborian Age,” written in preparation for undertaking the Conan story cycle, we see all of these ideas and more, described in detail that is highly imaginative and speculative, yet strangely accurate. The various peoples of the essay are described as the survivors of world-changing cataclysms which took them from a high-level of iron and bronze-age development, and thrust them back into an “ape-like” savagery from which they had to laboriously climb yet again. At the beginning of Howard’s essay, the Atlanteans of the previous Thurian Age were said to have devolved into “apemen,” who “yet managed to retain vestiges of their former state of highly advanced barbarism.”  Eventually, these became the Cimmerians.

Similarly, a type of proto-human “snow-ape,” apparently a species of hominid, was encountered by the fledgling Hyborian tribes in the far Northern reaches of their continent, and these creatures eventually developed into the AEsir and Vanir of the Hyborian Age (and would therefore be the ancestors of many “Nordic” peoples today). Howard states that a Hyborian war party was eventually sent “beyond the arctic circle” to “exterminate these beasts,” because they were “evolving into true men”. None of the Hyborians returned and we have to wonder: Were they all killed, or is there something else here, left unsaid yet meant to be wondered about?  Did some of these adventurers become breeding stock for the ape-folk of the North? Did the ape-people of the wastelands desire to become fully human?

This idea found its way into the Conan stories themselves. In “Rogues in the House” we meet Thak, a proto-human hominid. Nabonidus tells Murilo:

“That is Thak,” answered the priest, caressing his temple. “Some would call him an ape, but he is almost as different from a real ape as he is different from a real man. His people dwell far to the east, in the mountains that fringe the eastern frontiers of Zamora. There are not many of them; but, if they are not exterminated, I believe they will become human beings in perhaps a hundred thousand years. They are in the formative stage; they are neither apes, as their remote ancestors were, nor men, as their remote descendants may be. They dwell in the high crags of well-nigh inaccessible mountains, knowing nothing of fire or the making of shelter or garments, or the use of weapons. Yet they have a language of a sort, consisting mainly of grunts and clicks.

Holy Sasquatch!  Like the character of Caesar in Planet of the Apes, Thak longs to be a “true man,” yet his kind lurk in the remote and mountainous regions. Here we see that Howard was very much invested in not just the ascent of man theory as outlined by Darwin, but that he was perhaps describing a world very similar to the one which may have actually existed just tens of thousands of years ago, and which the Human Genome Project is now uncovering as fact.

Apparently this potential admixture between different hominid specie was well-known to the people of the Hyborian Age. Even barbarian Cimmerians might have been aware of it. In “Shadows in the Moonlight,” Conan fights and kills (barely!) a gigantic man-like ape, and when Olivia asks him what it is, he replies:

“A gray man-ape,” …” Dumb, and man-eating. They dwell in the hills that border the eastern shore of this sea. How this one got to this island, I can’t say. Maybe he floated here on driftwood, blown out from the mainland in a storm.”

Before Conan came to the rescue, the creature was following the fully-human, and highly-alluring, Olivia:

“It followed me,” she shivered. “I saw it climbing the cliffs.”

Since the delicate Olivia presented little to no physical threat to such a beast, there may be more implied here than simple anthropophagy!

To say that Howard was probably influenced in his ideas by his voracious reading is self-evident; but the question is, how much was influenced, and how much was devised by his own insight?  The influence of Darwin and his theories is obvious, but we can also see the influence of theosophy with his inclusion of “Lemuria” in his concept of the pre-Hyborian world. Lemuria was a hypothetical land-bridge between Africa, Madagascar and the Indian subcontinent, based on the fossils of lemurs that had been found in those locations, and first postulated by Phillip L. Schlater, an English geologist. Nothing was known at that time about plate tectonics, or the fact that the landmasses in that area had once been one and the same mass.  This “name” had nothing to do with a Pacific-spanning continent, series of large islands, or empire called Mu, rumors of which have existed for centuries; nevertheless, the theosophist Helena Blavatsky leapt onto this and rushed to include this hypothetical landmass in her writings about pre-human history, lost continents, and root races, calling the ancient land “Lemuria” and its inhabitants “Lemurians.” “Lemuria” was also the name of an ancient Roman holiday, which she may or may not have known about, a festival in which the spirits of the hostile dead (lemures) were placated or distracted by throwing black beans in the streets in order to compel the spirits to pick them up and count them, thus leaving the living alone.

The theosophical idea of ancient and pre-human “root races” is very much a part of Howard’s musings, in both “The Hyborian Age” and in his fiction. We catch glimpses of these nearly-vanished “root races” in “Queen of the Black Coast,” “The Pool of the Black One,” “Red Nails,” and even in The Hour of the Dragon. For that matter, would the Serpent-Men of Valusia not be a very Blavatskian sort of “root race,” along with the vampire race encountered by both Conan in Hour, and by Solomon Kane in “Moon of Skulls”?  Kane also encounters a recurring “root race” of Howard’s, the winged humanoid, in “Wings in the Night.” And of course, there is the pre-human subterranean race encountered by Bran Mak Morn in “Worms of the Earth.” Many more examples like this exist in Howard’s fiction.

Usually these pre-human races are presented as either having degenerated from an advanced state and into savagery (Queen of the Black Coast), or as the possessors of dark, evil, and destructive technology (sorcery). Thugra Khotan in “Black Colossus” fits this description, as does Xaltotun of Acheron in The Hour of the Dragon; the latter’s people are described more as preternatural “fiends” than as human beings, a “race of wizards.” In “The Devil in Iron,” Conan faces Khosatral Khel, not only the last remnant of an ancient race, but a demon-humanoid with iron flesh. With all of these characters and their respective races, we can see a parallel with the nephilim as described in the Book(s) of Enoch: the offspring of men and evil gods (fallen angels), who can be giants mentally, physically, or both, and who long to dominate and rule over mere mortals of short-lived flesh and blood.

This concept of “the spawn of fallen angels and human women” is not far-removed from the more recent idea of “ancient astronauts” or “ancient aliens.”  Howard touched upon this “variation on a theme” in “The Tower of the Elephant,” in the person of the extraterrestrial Yag-Kosha, who tells Conan:

“I am very old, oh man of the waste countries; long and long ago I came to this planet with others of my world, from the green planet Yag, which circles for ever in the outer fringe of this universe. We swept through space on mighty wings that drove us through the cosmos quicker than light, because we had warred with the kings of Yag and were defeated and outcast. But we could never return, for on earth our wings withered from our shoulders. Here we abode apart from earthly life…”

Not only does the entity describe faster-than-light interstellar travel, but Yag-Kosha also goes on to describe themes already discussed here:

“We saw men grow from the ape and build the shining cities of Valusia, Kamelia, Commoria, and their sisters. We saw them reel before the thrusts of the heathen Atlanteans and Picts and Lemurians. We saw the oceans rise and engulf Atlantis and Lemuria, and the isles of the Picts, and the shining cities of civilization. We saw the survivors of Pictdom and Atlantis build their stone age empires, and go down to ruin, locked in bloody wars. We saw the Picts sink into abysmal savagery, the Atlanteans into apedom again. We saw new savages drift southward in conquering waves from the arctic circle to build a new civilization…”

Here we see another expression of the ideas laid out in “The Hyborian Age,” or more or less a brief synopsis of much of it.

Diffusionism is another powerful element in Howard’s fiction.  In “The Hyborian Age,” he wrote at length about the migrations of races, ethnicities and populations, and the admixtures of these groups that resulted in new ones. In the “James Allison” stories we see encounters with pre-human root races yet again.  Howard was familiar not just with the works of H.P. Blavatsky but also with contemporary racial migration theories, so his “proto-Aryans,” the progenitors of the “Sons of Aryas,” and descendants of the Hyborian Age’s AEsir and Vanir, roamed the world looking for new lands to conquer, just as described in his essay. This is made most clear in “The Valley of the Worm,” in which the AEsir have but recently left the northlands and have encroached upon the land of the Picts, who during the Hyborian Age lived directly south of “Nordheim,” and had also conquered and inhabited Aquilonia just before the cataclysm. Niord/Allison’s tribe comes into contact with a hairy hominid of advanced sorcerous/technological power, as well as with the ancient horror which is its master. Similarly, in “The Garden of Fear,” one of James Allison’s previous incarnations encounters an advanced member of the winged race that Howard featured in several of his stories. These two tales in particular seem to have taken place shortly after the end of the Hyborian Age yet well before the beginning of recorded history.

Additionally, Howard’s concept of the Hyborian Age drew upon multiple mythologies, legend-cycles, and sacred texts for inspiration. This was actually a brilliant idea, given that many or even most such legends and beliefs turn out, time and again, to have a basis in fact, even if greatly-distorted or largely lost over time. His “Ophir” comes from the Bible, while his “Nemedians” were gleaned from Lebor Gabala Erenn (The Book of the Taking of Ireland), and these are but two examples. His linguistic and etymological thoughts were highly intuitive as well; just one example is his connection between the Cimmerians of the Black Sea region and the Gimmerai, along with the Cimbri/Cymric tribes, which may actually have some basis in fact—although the migration would have been from the Black Sea and into Asia Minor and Europe, and not the other way around.Or would it?

 2.  Catastrophism, Lost Cities and Forgotten Civilizations

At this point we should wonder how there was such accuracy to many of Howard’s ideas in “The Hyborian Age,” or perhaps we should say, accuracy in his “intuition.” Geographically and geologically speaking, he was often a lot closer to the truth than anyone could have dreamt while he was still alive and writing.

For one example, he placed a vast expanse of Nordheim, and parts of Cimmeria, beneath what is now the North Sea, with “the mountains of Western Cimmeria” becoming the British Isles. He also says that

… “In the north the Baltic Sea was formed, cutting Asgard into the peninsulas later known as Norway, Sweden and Denmark”…

In fact, neolithic artifacts dating from 11,000 to 12,000 years ago have been brought up by oil-rig workers from the bottom of the North Sea. Dubbed “Doggerland,” this now-submerged region was once an area of dry land that stretched from Denmark to Scotland, and was submerged in a sequence of sea-level rises that occurred repeatedly from 18,000 to 5,500 BC. The human population in this region (which includes what is now the Baltic Sea) is estimated to have numbered in the tens of thousands, and was inhabited by herds of red deer, mammoths, and other massive fauna. Rivers and broad plains have been identified by seismic scans, and at the time, the British Isles were not islands at all, but were the western highlands of the continent… just as Howard had described.

Howard’s idea about the formation of the Mediterranean Sea is largely accurate, and, concerning the Nile, he said:

…the Stygian continent was broken away from the rest of the world, on the line of cleavage formed by the river Nilus in its westward trend. Over Argos, western Koth and the western lands of Shem, washed the blue ocean men later called the Mediterranean.

This is actually an idea that was once scoffed at in academic circles. Yet in 1986, imaging photos taken by the Space Shuttle revealed that the ancient path of the Nile turned abruptly near the current delta and flowed due West and across the Northern Sahara, to empty into the Atlantic near the coastline of Morocco (Science, August 1986).

Current scientific thought states that, rather than 12,000 years ago, the Mediterranean Sea was created approximately 5 million years ago, and perhaps this is true to a large extent; yet how could Howard have even guessed that the Nile turned and ran westward?  Ruins have been found at various sites throughout the Mediterranean, beneath the waves. Many of these have been identified historically, but some have not. And who can say what other ruins might yet be discovered?  Similarly, sub-oceanic ruins are being found at sites all over the world, ranging from the megalith anomaly discovered off the shore of Yonaguni, Japan to another site near the coast of Cuba (the latter being in water hundreds of feet deep), and even on a seamount located 300 miles west of Gibraltar, that corresponds to the general location and even shape and dimensions of Atlantis, as reported by Solon to Plato. Meanwhile, finds on dry land are beginning to show us that not only were these civilizations around from 10,000 to 12,000 years ago; these were often civilizations of a high level of cultural development and social organization, and they have one thing in common: they all came to an abrupt end at roughly the same period of time, when some manner of geological and climate-altering cataclysm struck our planet. Sea levels rose quickly and drastically (estimates range from 100 to 300 feet) with a sudden thaw of glacial regions, not once but several times, and earthquakes and volcanoes flared up to bury entire cities in lava, mud, dust-storms or sand.

Apparently the time period around 10,000 BC was a lot more cosmopolitan than we’ve been led to believe. Recent finds have been alternately stunning, amazing, tantalizing, and contentious. Here are just a few of many that date to approximately 11,000 to 12,000 years ago:

The Yonaguni Monument

In 1996, a diver discovered a gigantic, angularly-carved megalithic platform some forty feet below the ocean’s surface, this time off the southwestern shore of Okinawa, near the island of Yonaguni. The platform is basically a pyramidal structure which has been cut with great precision from a solid outcrop or hill of rock, or perhaps from a submerged mountaintop. Divers look like shrimp swimming over and around it. There is no doubt that it is an artificial structure, but as to who might have created it, no one knows. The area was last above sea-level, and inhabitable, approximately 10,000-12,000 years ago.

The Bosnian “Pyramids”

In 2005, anthropologist Dr. Semir Osmanagic revealed that he believed he had located the largest and most ancient pyramids in the world, in Europe—modern-day Bosnia, to be precise, near the town of Visoko, and dating to 10,000 BC. Debate has raged over the artificial nature of the structures as opposed to a natural origin. According to Osmanagic, the five pyramids are surrounded by artificial mounds and tumuli, and are situated with their faces perfectly, precisely aligned to the cardinal points of the compass. To further add credence to his claims, it has been found that there is an elaborate and well-formed tunnel system which appears to lead toward one of the largest pyramids and has been artificially dug through “conglomerate” rock. These tunnels also branch off in all directions and are slowly being cleared of the debris and rock-falls of millennia.

12,000-Year-Old Tunnel Network

German archaeologist Dr. Heinrich Kusch claims to have found evidence of a vast tunnel network that existed beneath hundreds of Neolithic sites dating to approximately 12,000 years ago, and which snaked all over the continent of Europe at one time. He believes he has evidence that this network stretched from Scotland to Turkey, and details his findings in his book Secrets Of The Underground Door To An Ancient World. Such an extensive network might have served a number of purposes, but could one such purpose have been to find shelter from cataclysmic events?  And of course, the idea of “lost races” and “degenerated races” who live in a tunnel and cavern world beneath Europe, or Hyboria, is one that will be familiar to readers of Howard’s work.

Derinkuyu, Turkey

Derinkuyu is a massive underground city site discovered in Turkey that is estimated, variously, to range in inception anywhere from 700 to 800 BC, to many thousands of years earlier. One of the reasons for the discrepancy in dating may lie with the fact that this site (and others like it in the region) have been inhabited, and modified, multiple times and by different populations over the centuries. Derinkuyu could accommodate approximately 20,000 people, comfortably. Over 200 additional underground cities of various sizes exist in the region.

Gobekli Tepe

Possibly the most impressive ancient site yet uncovered, Gobekli Tepe may also be the most demonstrably ancient. Located 35 miles north of Turkey’s border with Syria, this relatively recent discovery was not examined in a serious manner until 1995 when Klaus Schmidt of the German Archeological Institute began a dig at the location. Now dated at 11,000 to 12,000 years ago, the site features an elaborate grouping of megalithic stone circles comprised of T-shaped columns, some weighing as much as 50 tons. These columns also feature raised relief carvings of animal figures. Perhaps the most mysterious feature of the site is that it was not destroyed by a cataclysm or climate event, but was carefully buried in tightly-packed sand, dirt and stone debris about 10,000 years ago, as if to conceal and preserve it, possibly from a coming calamity or cataclysm. To date, less than 5% of the site has been excavated.

The Ampere Seamount

In 1974, the Russian research vessel Academician Petrovksy conducted a survey of a section of ocean floor near the Horse Archipelago in the Atlantic, 300 miles west of Gibraltar. The Ampere Seamount is a plateau that thrusts upwards from a depth of 10,000 feet, coming to within 200 feet of the surface. Pictures taken by the Russian team show stone-block masonry and a wall, along with stone staircases and other artificial-looking modifications to what would have been an island above sea level, 12,000 years ago. Another telling clue as to this being a submerged island is that the seamount is ringed by deposits of beach sandbanks, which are only created by the actions of waves rushing up toward a shoreline and pounding on rock over many years. The site is still under investigation, with plans for an expedition in the near future.

Dvarka/Dwarka, the “City of Lord Krishna”

In early 2002, a submerged city that is five miles long and two miles wide was found in the Gulf of Cambay, off the western coast of India. Now dated at anywhere from 9,500 to 12,000 years old, architectural and even human remains have been seen and filmed intact at the site. The site has been named “Dwarka,” after a submerged mystical city said to be ruled by the demigod Krishna. The remains of a submerged temple have been identified, and stone anchors have been found in large numbers, indicating that the site was probably once a large port city. Of course, this would also mean that ships were sailing the seas of our planet 9,000 to 12,000 years ago.

There are many other “lost cities” of antiquity, not as ancient as the aforementioned sites. Among these is Ubar, a walled metropolis that was swallowed first by a sinkhole that had been the city’s depleted aquifer, and then the desert sands. The city was founded around 5,000 years ago, but was just a legend until it was rediscovered in the Rub’al Khali or Empty Quarter, by amateur archaeologists from Los Angeles, California, George Hedges and Nicholas Clapp, in 1992. While not quite as old (and therefore not falling within Howard’s Hyborian Age), the find still goes to show that it is often the mavericks and the laymen who make the greatest of discoveries. Heinrich Schliemann was an “amateur” archaeologist as well, yet his persistence finally revealed the location and remains of the “mythical” city of Troy, near Hissarlik, Turkey. And of course, Schliemann’s contemporary Arthur Evans uncovered the previously unknown Minoan civilization in 1900. Human beings had been on the island of Crete as far back as 130,000 years ago, but civilization did not begin until 7,000 years ago… as far as is known at present.

The list could go on, with many other sites fitting well into the “Hyborian” timeframe, locales a-plenty to have known the “sandaled tread” of many a barbarian wanderer. Suffice it to say that perhaps, in fact and in history yet to be discovered, that “between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars.”

Howard may have been onto something, after all.

Copyright 2015 © by Wm. Michael Mott

Author Biography:

Wm. Michael Mott is a writer and artist who has several books in print, along with many anthology and magazine features. He’s written about paranormal phenomena; comparative myth, religion and folklore; UFOs; cryptozoology; pulp, adventure, sci-fi and fantasy fiction; and art and education topics. He’s been a guest on Coast To Coast AM and many other radio programs, as well as a featured speaker on the television program Ancient Aliens, and currently he’s one of the co-hosts on The Outer Edge, a weekly radio program found at http://www.theouteredgeradio.com.

Mike’s blog is found at: http://www.mottimorphic.com/blog, and his publisher’s page is found at: http://www.gravedistractions.com/william-michael-mott.php.

Mike’s older personal web site is mottimorphic.com, where information about his writing and artwork can be found, and he also has a Facebook fan page (linked from the web site). He can be reached through the web site.

He has also been a serious student and fan of the work of Robert E. Howard for well over four decades, and counting.